Category: Summer

And we’re done … for nine weeks

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Are summer holidays really only nine weeks long? I just counted, and it seemed short, so I counted again, and it was still only nine weeks.

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I walked up to school on Wednesday to pick up CJ for his last day. And then we walked home and I was reminded how un-fun that walk home could be. Tired Kid + Mom = Complaining Every Step of the Way. What, no snacks? Water bottle empty? I can’t go on! Pick me up, or I shall stand here in the middle of the sidewalk and refuse to move, whilst pretending to cry.

And so, I actually carried him part of the way. It’s funny how Tired Kid – Mom = Temporary Prevention of Meltdown (until Mom appears on the scene). (Works the same, in our house, for Dad, too.) Maybe the kids lose a little bit of self-sufficiency when they know they’ve got back-up. They outsource their misery rather than carrying it themselves. I’m okay with that. Most of the time.

But I’m kind of glad he takes the bus most days and the older kids can walk themselves.

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I also bought new sandals on Wednesday to replace the broken ones that lasted four years. And I swam at the 50 metre outdoor pool for the first time this summer: bliss! I’ve been biking, spinning, doing weights, and swimming to make up for not running. My ankle is nearly there, almost ready to be tested with a run.

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Meanwhile, poor Albus got sick and spent the last few days of school (which happen to be the fun ones) catatonic in bed. I knew he was sick when he wrapped himself in blankets and turned off all fans on Tuesday afternoon: our themostat was reading around 87 degrees upstairs. I dragged him to school to clean out his desk yesterday, and to give his teacher a (hopefully germ-free) gift. I’ve been giving my books, signed, as teacher gifts, and couldn’t remember whether I’d already done that at Christmas … er, awkward. I was pretty sure I hadn’t, but Albus thought I had, and then I couldn’t remember but it was too late as we were already on our way, so we both felt embarassed to hand over the gift bag. And that was the end of grade six, and the end of his time at elementary school. Talk about anticlimactic. He’s off to a new school this fall.

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Fooey has filled a bag with schoolwork to burn at our annual Canada Day bonfire. CJ is proving way too sentimental over everything he made this year (and I do mean everything).

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AppleApple will be with the same teacher again this fall, but had to say goodbye to friends who are graduating schools, including her walking partner from the neighbourhood.

And that sums up our goodbyes. Very little drama.

Next up: holidays. The big kids will be babysitting the little kids, and they are taking their new responsibilities very seriously (starting today, in fact, and I haven’t been disturbed yet!). We’ve got two weeks of swim lessons, cottage invitations for a couple of kids, plans to get together with family, overnight camps, one week of day camp for the little kids, and a half-day tennis camp for Fooey (who thinks that tennis might be her “special thing.”) I’ve got major book revisions to tackle, and a course to finish planning, but I’d also like to swim as often as possible. And there’s always soccer.

Nine weeks “off,” here we come.

Meet

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Here’s where the swim girl and I are spending many humid hours of our weekend. This particular meet is being held in what just might be the world’s largest sauna. Perhaps my skin will thank me for it, and I’ll emerge from the heavy chlorinated air looking years younger, or perhaps I’ll just emerge with a sweat-spotted tank top, but either way, I will emerge. We both will.

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This meet was added into our June schedule unexpectedly when the coach told us that AppleApple had met qualifying times for a number of events at the regional meet. “Well, that just happens to be our one free weekend,” I replied, with what I hope was a touch of excitement rather than bitterness. No, I’m just kidding. I’ve gained a certain fondness over this year for the atmosphere of the swim meet. It’s become familiar, and known, and happy, much like the atmosphere of the soccer tournament.

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I didn’t get any glowing photos of my girl. That’s because immediately after watching her race I am a bundle of nervous energy exploding and cannot steady my hands to hold the camera. So these are all befores, when she’s going through whatever emotions a kid goes through while waiting for a race.

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This is how I captured her, waiting with her teammates for, quite literally, the last race of the day: 4×100 freestyle relay. She is the newest and least experienced member of the tight-knit team and a couple of these girls are the fastest in the region, so when her coach placed her on the last leg of the race, I almost couldn’t bear to watch. But I watched. How could I not? There’s my baby, all those hours of practice and hard work adding up to this moment, throwing herself in and swimming for the wall with intense determination. “How were you feeling?” I asked afterward. “Terrified!” she said, although her tone suggested that the sensation was not entirely unpleasant. In the race, she took two seconds off the time she’d swum earlier in the day, which was already two seconds faster than her personal best. Her team won gold.

She also won individual bronze in the 200 metre breaststroke, and placed strongly in her other two events.

“How do you feel?” “I’ve never felt this way before, so I don’t really know.”

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Meanwhile, in the non-swimming-related portions of life, Kevin and I went to a party last night, which reminded me that we haven’t been out socially for ages. Where has my social life gone? It’s gotten lost in the swim meets and soccer tournaments, I’m pretty sure. Also, I haven’t found a replacement for playgroup, a social event that sustained me for years, friends gathered weekly in each other’s homes to drink coffee and hold babies and send our preschool-aged children off to play together (mostly, that happened). This past year was the first without playgroup. And I miss people, specific people, because our paths don’t seem to cross in the same way anymore. I don’t mean to end this post on a melancholy note. I’m coming to accept that there’s no balance possible in life, only the enjoyment of and engagement with what’s right before us, but I keep my eyes peeled for certain omissions in the every day, so as to make changes, if needed or wanted. Any advice for post-playgroup-every-day-socializing?

Saying goodbye

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Welcome solstice. I haven’t got any solstice traditions to maintain, but maybe Kevin and I could meet for a drink in the late-light tonight, after swimming and soccer. I’ll admit to entertaining a minor annual melancholy over this particular solstice, because the peak means we will now begin to head back in the other direction. (I entertain a minor annual joy over the winter solstice, so it all balances out.)

Speaking of heading in other directions, see photos above. The first of my four kids to attend nursery school (and the last), CJ has spent intensive time at this nursery school and in the care of truly loving, fun, warm, attentive women, and this morning was his last, here. Ever. I remember all those years ago being at loose ends for childcare and spotting a small advertisement for the nursery school in the back of our local recreation guide, and what a leap it was to make an appointment, to sign up, and then actually to send him, at 20 months of age, one morning a week. Which soon became two, then three. Last year it was up to five mornings a week, only scaled back this year because he attended “big school” on alternate days.

I joke that I should have sent all of my kids to nursery school: the kid knows how to tidy up!

But of course, we do what feels right, and what feels right changes as we change. I changed in my mothering care and working life, and CJ walked a different early childhood path than his older siblings, and we all benefitted in different ways.

It was hard to say goodbye today. CJ has been worrying about “the last day” for weeks now. But he was happy there, so happily we went this morning, goodbye cards in hand. He comforted himself with the reminder that he would come back again to visit.

And he will, and we will, I don’t doubt it.

It’s just that under-the-surface knowledge, which I think he gets too, that we can come back to visit, but we can’t come back to stay. That we will be changed, and change again. We really do have to say goodbye. And maybe, too, that it’s ourselves, our younger, smaller selves we’re also saying goodbye to.

Keepers: cold cellar, cupboards, and freezers

I found this post on my Facebook timeline (which was oddly compelling; damn you, Facebook, for finding new ways to help me procrastinate). I wrote it in the middle of February, 2011. But its information seems especially useful just now, in the midst of the harvest season, as I make an effort to fill the cold cellar, cupboards, and freezer. Though I haven’t felt very domestic this summer, somehow the arrival of September gives me the sudden urge to preserve. I feel it in the changing light and the leaves starting to fall, and the yellowing tomato plants: now is the time, hurry, hurry!

I had help this weekend. Caught up in a writing spell, and in possession of a bin of pears afflicted by fruit flies, Kevin offered to learn the fine art of saucing and canning. (Actually, it’s more of a craft than an art, and a bit tedious as he discovered, but he also discovered that he could can pearsauce while watching soccer. Win!) My mother told my aunt who was thrilled because apparently my uncle cans every summer. And then Kevin went to pick up kids at a friend’s house, and discovered that the dad was in the middle of — you guessed it! — canning.

Photos and original post below.


Some food stores well in our cold cellar. Some food does not. The sweet keeper squash is still going strong, but all other squashes are turning, uh, squishy. Squishes. We’ve kept them past their prime. Note to self: buy in bulk early in the season, eat lots, and by January at the very latest, shred and freeze the rest. Late February is too late. Although also note: some slightly squishy squash may be peeled and turned into soup.

Excellent keepers: garlic, stored in brown paper bags (I love my Ontario garlic! If you think you know garlic, and you’ve only ever met grocery store Chinese-grown garlic, I would like to introduce you to a whole different vegetable [is it a vegetable?]); potatoes, as long as you root through the big bag and compost any soft specimens–they keep best stored in smaller amounts in brown paper bags; beets, just like potatoes, only everyone gets much more tired of them, and kind of wishes they wouldn’t keep so well (though they do make good pickles).

Good keepers: apples. Our cold cellar can’t preserve them as well as Martin’s, our local apple farm, but we buy half a bushel or more at a time, and, stored in our cold cellar, they stay crispy ’til eaten. But we can go through half a bushel in two weeks, so it’s hard to put a fine end date on their cold cellar lives.

Decent keepers: yams, turnips, green cabbage, napa cabbage, pears. Lower your expectations. Don’t leave them to linger all winter long. Eat within the month (even sooner for the napa). We store them loose on wire shelves, with the exception of the pears, which are stored, like the apples, in a handy bin. The pears must been eaten within two weeks, we’ve found, and they rot deceptively, from the inside out.

Not to be kept in the cold cellar: onions, which apparently have an ill effect on apples, so we store them in a dark cupboard in the kitchen; and carrots, which keep best in the refrigerator. It’s not practical to have more than 10 lbs in the bottom drawer of the fridge, but luckily, through Bailey’s Local Foods, I can buy a new 10 lb bag every month. And when that’s not enough, I can drive to Martin’s farm and buy more.

In the freezer, which I’m digging into with ever more gratitude for last summer’s kept harvest, I wish there were more: corn and green beans. And less peas and beet greens. I am absolutely thrilled with the amount of plums and apricots, and the happy surprise of blueberries, (enough to get us through til April or May). But the frozen applesauce is wasted space. Note to self: can the stuff! My canned pearsauce has lasted til now (last jar opened last night). My tomatoes are hanging in there, but with an upswing in soup and stew production, the jolly red jars are beginning to dwindle. I must do a head count. I want them to last through May, and it’s time to start rationing. The frozen roasted red peppers continue to delight. And finally, I am happy with my frozen herbs, but could have frozen far more cilantro and basil, the latter particularly, because there is nothing like a heaping bowl of pasta with pesto to make a winter’s supper sing. 

Summer day, blue moon

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It’s the last day of summer. Not officially, and yes, we still have the long weekend before school starts. But it feels like the last day of summer. Today will be the last Friday, for awhile anyway, that my kids spend with their grandma. And yesterday we said goodbye to the babysitter who has given them (and me) many wonderful summer days of activity and creativity.

The end of a chapter is upon us.

So to mark the occasion, this morning Kevin and I went for one last summer swim in our favourite outdoor pool. The water temperature had dropped significantly since we were there last; cooler nights, I guess. The sun is shining today, and it’s hot, but after forty-five minutes in that chilly water we were both numb, much the way we felt after our lake swims last week.

So we climbed out, showered, and had lunch together. Sweet. Once in a blue moon, I tell you.

I’m planning to spend the long weekend holed up and writing. I’ve spent the last few days doing exactly that, disappearing, emerging to whip together a passable supper, or to take a kid to soccer practice so I can go for a run, but otherwise absent from the happenings of the household. Which is a bit sad, in some ways; to spend these final days of my kids’ holidays lost inside my mind. But I’m taking the chance while I’ve got it, and while energy and inspiration run strong.

Make hay while the sun shines.

And swim while it’s still summer.

This is what a holiday with four kids and two dogs looks like

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Sunday, day one. Pack up post-successful-soccer tournament and drive east 281 km to spend night in hotel, booked in advance. Eat pizza in truck. Feed dogs by roadside. Arrive after dark only to discover hotel has no adjoining rooms. And the gym is already closed. Split up into two rooms, boys and girls (with dogs in boys’).

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meeting their new cousin
Monday, day two. Take dogs to vet (it’s a complicated story). Spend morning at hotel, swimming, running on nearby lakeside trail. Pick up dogs mid-afternoon and drive east 111 km to visit new nephew/cousin. He’s only five days old!

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Tuesday, day three. Visiting with family, swimming in the basin of a nearby lock, running/hiking on a beautiful wooded trail, playing badminton and soccer, walking dogs on rocks, staying up late to watch silly tv (everyone) … oh, and doing that 11-year-old specialty: the I’m-bored flop.

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best picture ever
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Wednesday, day four. Brunch with grandma, aunt, uncle, cousins; say goodbye. Pack up and drive west and north 423 km. Threaten at various points during the journey to pack it in and just go home (arguing children, restless dogs, exhausted parents). Instead, surge ever onward. Until we get here.

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birthday on the boat
Thursday, day five. Dogs cry all night; luckily only Kevin and I can hear them; unluckily, we are running dangerously low on sleep. Luckily, I find on the cottage shelves a light and fluffy book into which to disappear for the better part of the day: The Nanny Diaries. And the children play. And we swim. And we walk the dogs around the rocks and woods. And we celebrate Fooey’s birthday (again!), this time on a boat in the middle of the lake.

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Friday, day six. Dogs sleep better. Kevin and I sleep better. Motorboat and water skiis tested out. More swimming. I disappear into past issues of The New Yorker, discover the journals of Mavis Gallant from Spain, early 1950s. As the writers of The Nanny Diaries would say: “Swoon.” (Only they’d say it about the hunky guy upstairs.)

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it's a beautiful world
Saturday, day seven. More water-skiing and boating. A long swim out to “Poop Island,” accompanied by kids and Kevin and my dad in canoe and kayaks. More long-form essays in The New Yorker devoured. More food eaten. Dogs happy in shade. Ahhhhhh.

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Sunday, day eight. More swimming, skiing, boating, eating, reading, all crammed in before a late lunch. Pack up. Boat out. Drive west and south 302 km, with interlude by the side of the road due to vehicle trouble. (Should have gotten a photo of that for posterity.) Four kids, two dogs, two parents, seventeen bags of dirty laundry, and by golly, we make it home. CJ: “This doesn’t feel like my bed! It feels different.”

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‘Til next summer, then.

:::

A brief addendum, applicable only today. I’m signing books this evening at Chapters in Waterloo from 6-8. Stop by if you’ve got a few minutes. We can chat about The Juliet Stories. Or swap summer holiday stories.

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